Recently South Korea – aka the Republic of Korea – was awarded the XXIII Olympics Winter Games in 2018. For many of us, that’s no big deal. But have you any idea how miraculous that achievement is?
The South Koreans prevailed over proposals from Germany and France, no small feat for a land that in the 1950s wallowed in abject poverty, as poor as any Third World nation today. In years when “made in Japan” was a joke, “made in South Korea” was unthinkable.
When North and South Korea were divided by the 38th Parallel, the atheistic, Communist neighbor to the north actually had an advantage in natural resources. For South Korea, which became sanctuary for about seven million Christian refugees from North Korea, farming was its sole industry. Natural resources were scarce, as were formal education and modern technology. There was no semblance of entrepreneurship.
What changed for the now prospering land of nearly 49 million people, ranked among the world’s top 15 economic powers?
Among many factors, one crucial decision stands out: the resolve to pray. In the ‘50s, then-President Syngman Rhee enlisted Christian leaders to pray fervently for South Korea. Many thousands of citizens rose in pre-dawn hours to call out to God, seeking His mercy and blessing.
To this day, South Koreans visitors are amazed to learn of multitudes that awaken long before sunrise, convening in large sports arenas, churches and other locations, shouting and crying out to the Lord.
South Korea has its flaws. Prosperity has brought corruption; not a surprise. (“The love of money is a root of many kinds of evil” – 1 Timothy 6:10.) Other common drawbacks of materialism have followed. But the nation now has an estimated 50,000 Protestant congregations, including the largest church in the world with more than 1 million members.
Contrast what has happened in South Korea to North Korea, labeled by some “a repressive nightmare,” its economy in disarray. Compare South Korea also with the United States, where a vocal minority actively condemns mottos such as “In God We Trust” on currency and license tags, and “one nation under God” is assailed as violating separation of church and state.
In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God declares, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Later God warns of dire consequences, “if you turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you…” (2 Chronicles 7:19-20).
South Korea has reaped benefits of becoming humble and praying and seeking God. Our own nation, I fear, is well on its way to experiencing the downside of turning away and forsaking Him.